For the past few months, I have been trying to make my way to Caracas Arepa Bar at 93 1/2 E.7th St off of 1st Ave. Yesterday, I finally made it.
For those of you unfamiliar with arepas, they're cornmeal patties that are grilled and then split open and stuffed with all manner of delicious things. And Caracas is one of the best places to get them. So I had been told. They were featured on Food Network's Throwdown with Bobby Flay, so I figured they'd be worth a try.
Caracas has some strong points and some not so strong points. The food is ridiculously good. They offer 20 varieties of arepas and a few combination plates so you can try more than one type. And the arepas are fairly cheap, so it's not a bank wrecker. My first arepa was stuffed with pork shoulder, tomato, and spicy mango sauce. the pork was tender and full of flavor, and the sauce had a kick, but wasn't painful. On every table is a squeeze bottle of sauce made from tamarind and limes. This arepa didn't need it, although adding it didn't hurt either. In bewtween arepas, my fellow soup kitchen colleague and I ordered fried plantains covered in salty white cheese and herbed mayo. For those of you gluten free readers, fear not. The plantains are pan fried without a coating and the arepas are made from pure cornmeal. The plantains were amazingly good, not too sweet and balanced by the cheese and the mayo. Then I moved on to my second arepa, the more tradtitional variety, made with shredded beef cooked in a tomato based sauce, with black beans, white cheese, and more plantains. The beef was a bit sweet for my taste, but delicious anyway. The food here lives up to the expectations.
But the place is tiny. And crowded. It's crowded because the food is so wonderful, but the place is so small that we were almost on top of our neighbors. This is not a place to go with a large crowd of people, or a bunch of bags. And the service could have been a bit better. The staff was very friendly, but not particularly attentive. I had to ask for more water three times before it was brought to me. And being a non-Spanish speaker, I felt a bit out of place when my colleague and my waiter began conversing in Spanish.
The silver lining, if you're like me and don't like mediocre service or being spoken to in a language you don't understand, is that Caracas also has a to go storefront. The same menu, without the crowd and without the lackluster service. I'd be more than happy to grab arepas from Caracas To Go, and might even be willing to sit down at the restaurant again, if it happened to be less crowded.
Overall, I'd say A+ for food, but C for service and atmosphere.